It’s really hard to look back at the Detroit Lions of the last few years without noticing the harrowing downturn in culture that led the team to where it is now. You start to zero in on specific comments made by players and some of the actions we noticed from the last regime and didn’t realize at the time how big they were.
When it comes down to it, the Lions culture is dead. They don’t have a new one yet. What everyone around the league is figuring out more and more is that the Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn came into this team and stripped all the fun away from it piece by piece.
Going back, it’s easy to see all the signs. One of the earliest reports about Patricia was when he came in and took out the ping pong table from the center of the locker room and lengthened practices. The conditioning hill in Allen Park soon followed after that.
Then came the silencing of voices, the coach being late to meetings and cussing players out when he was there, trading away beloved and fun players and threatening to ruin the careers of others. The Lions became the team that was miserable to play for.
Richard Sherman knew that when the Lions tried to sign him before the 2020 season:
“But that’s not the kind of football I want to play. The way you run their scheme, your culture. You want to do it the Patriots’ way and that’s really not the way I do football. I have fun. I like music at practice. I like to hang out and be relaxed in meetings. I don’t like the stressful environment in football. (The Lions) condition every day after practice. My body isn’t built to run all day and night. I’ll be prepared, but I don’t have to be run into the ground.”
You getting the picture here? Fun is important. Yes, it’s nice to make millions of dollars, and of course you want your coaches to push you to be your absolute best, but fun is important. Winning is great too, but fun is important. Did I say, “fun is important” enough?
Along with scouting well and delivering the right scheme, the Lions need fun to be a major part of their rebuild. The Lions must absolutely take care of their players and portray to possible signees that the Lions are not just a potential up-and-coming team, but they’re a fun team to play for as well.
The old school “run some dirt on that concussion” football people aren’t going to like it. Some may feel like these guys are paid hefty salaries to do their job and they should be only concerned with doing that job to the best of their abilities at all time and should leave all that fun stuff to the offseason.
I think those people need to ask themselves about their own experiences. If you played sports growing up, did you respond more to the coach that was a hard ass and made you run laps until you passed out, or the coach that was fun, personable and took the time to individually get to know their players sot that they could push them the right way? For me it was definitely the latter. I want to feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself. I’ll work hard for that. I don’t want to feel scared of disappointing someone that looks at me like a cog in the machine.
The Lions seemed to be moving in the right direction on this. So far, at least from a media standpoint, Dan Campbell seems to be that fun guy. Sure, the kneecap stuff is fun and makes headlines, but he’s also talked about getting to know the players individually on a deeper level, and how t hat will make him a more effective coach.
“Everybody has some things in their life they react negatively to or positively to,” Campbell said in his introductory press conference. “And I think when you can get into the nuts and bolts of it to who the human is, then you realize maybe the reason that guy showed up was something very simple that’s going on in his life, as opposed to just reacting and blowing your top over the fact that he’s late. Maybe actually something is going on. Now, I would blow my top and have a problem – but I would sit down afterwards and say, ‘What’s going on? Is there something I need to know, and let’s find out?’
Along with Campbell is a group of coaches that all used to be players and know firsthand what guys in the locker room will respond to and how professional football players want to be treated. We’ve also seen that some of these guys can be just as affable as Campbell. See new Lions running back coach Duce Staley’s comments on our own Jeremy Reisman’s mustache or his entire appearance on our podcast.
Even more good news on this front is that the past shows that Dan Campbell can get players to buy into his way of coaching. Former Miami Dolphins tight end Jordan Cameron said that Campbell “brings a lot of energy, a lot of passion.” He also said that “everybody would run through a wall for Dan Campbell.”
It truly seems like there’s a feeling in Detroit like each person in the office and on the staff is believing in the sense that they’re working on something bigger than themselves. It’s as if the egos have been stripped from this team and everyone is working together to make this team good. When that kind of energy is about, it’s not hard to believe that there could be a level of fun added to this teams culture. For the sake of the future of the Lions, let's hope so.